Myths about Skid Row, Homelessness and Permanent Supportive Housing

Skid Row Housing Trust provides homes for people who need homes the most. We provide apartments for people who are homeless, including many people who are disabled and have lived on the streets for many years. Our homes are called “Permanent Supportive Housing.” Permanent supportive housing combines housing that is affordable with on-site supportive services. By providing homeless men and women with their own homes and the support to overcome the many causes of homelessness the Trust ensures that our residents have the opportunity to end their homelessness for good.

Click on the myths below to get the facts!

Myth: Permanent supportive housing is a magnet for homelessness.

Fact

Many community residents are concerned that permanent supportive housing in their community will become a magnet for homeless individuals, thus increasing homelessness in the community. In reality permanent supportive housing reduces the number of individuals on the street by providing permanent housing. Additionally, permanent supportive housing is often so well managed that it reduces the number of homeless individuals spending time on the streets around the development. Permanent supportive housing often replaces a blighted property with a beautiful and well managed new building. Many communities report a reduction in visible homelessness and an increase in property values after a permanent supportive housing building is completed in their community.

Myth: Permanent supportive housing is a magnet for homelessness.

Fact

Many community residents are concerned that permanent supportive housing in their community will become a magnet for homeless individuals, thus increasing homelessness in the community. In reality permanent supportive housing reduces the number of individuals on the street by providing permanent housing. Additionally, permanent supportive housing is often so well managed that it reduces the number of homeless individuals spending time on the streets around the development. Permanent supportive housing often replaces a blighted property with a beautiful and well managed new building. Many communities report a reduction in visible homelessness and an increase in property values after a permanent supportive housing building is completed in their community.

Myth: Permanent supportive housing is similar to shelter.

Fact

Permanent supportive housing is the opposite of shelter. Homeless shelters provide a bed and emergency services for individuals experiencing homelessness. These services are provided for free, but for a very limited time. When an individual reaches the maximum stay in a homeless shelter they often end up back on the streets and without services.

In contrast permanent supportive housing is permanent housing connected to on-going services. Residents of permanent supportive housing sign a lease, live in their own private apartment, and pay rent the same as any tenant in any apartment building. The only differences from market rate apartments are that the resident of permanent supportive housing is only asked to pay 30% of their income in rent and has access to on-site supportive services to assist them in staying in their housing.

Myth: Permanent supportive housing is public housing.

Fact

The federal government built its last public housing project in the 1970s. While there is debate about the effectiveness of public housing, there is a general consensus that these projects were often badly designed and badly managed. In response to the ongoing need for subsidized housing the federal government turned to the private sector. Low income tax credits and tax exempt bonds provided the incentive and resources needed for the nonprofit community to begin building affordable housing in the 1980s. Unlike public housing, affordable housing is designed, built, and operated by community organizations that understand the unique needs of the community better than the federal government. Community organizations also have an ongoing commitment to maintaining safe and beautiful buildings. As a result, affordable housing is much smaller in scale than public housing, blends into the community better, is designed better, is safer, and is often undistinguishable from market rate apartment buildings.

Myth: People are homeless because they don’t want to work.

Fact

Homelessness is caused by two major factors: poverty and systems failures, not laziness. In recent years we have come to understand that many of the systems put in place to protect our most vulnerable citizens are broken. The health care, mental health, child protective services, public education, and criminal justice systems have failed to effectively serve the individuals who need these services the most. As a result, the majority of individuals experiencing homeless were either previously in the foster care or the criminal justice systems, and/or suffer from a severe mental illness or chronic physical disability.

Additionally, individuals experiencing homelessness suffer from extreme poverty, and often lived in poverty for a long time before becoming homeless. This is a particular problem in Los Angeles where there is a large percentage of individuals and families living in poverty, very high housing costs, and a large gap between the wages those in the lower income strata earn and the cost of that housing. The gap between incomes and the cost of housing is so large that even a full-time job is not enough to get off the streets, or prevent an individual or family from becoming homeless. A household needs to earn $30 per hour to afford the average apartment rent of $1,567 per month in the Los Angeles/Orange County region.

Myth: Homeless people are dangerous and criminals.

Fact

Poverty does not make an individual dangerous or a criminal. Individuals experiencing homelessness first, and foremost, suffer from a lack of the resources needed to provide themselves shelter. In general individuals experiencing homeless are victims of crime far more often than they are the perpetrators of crime. Additionally, the majority of crimes that are perpetrated by individuals experiencing homeless are petty crimes such as shoplifting, loitering, and trespassing.

Myth: The concentration of homelessness in Skid Row is the result of a “containment policy.”

Fact

There are 88,000 homeless individuals in Los Angeles County, and the high majority of these individuals live outside of Skid Row. For the few thousand individuals who are homeless in Skid Row, their homelessness is the result of poverty and systems failure.

Skid Row has been the neighborhood of last resort for the low income population of Los Angeles for over a hundred years. While a de-concentration of social services in Skid Row would better serve the homeless in other parts of the region, it would not end homelessness for the few thousand individuals experiencing homelessness in Skid Row. The only solution to end homelessness in Skid Row is to prevent homelessness (address the economic factors and systems failures that cause homelessness) and provide permanent housing that meets the economic, health, and social needs of those individuals who are currently without a home.

Myth: The best thing for Skid Row would be to raze the entire community.

Fact

While incredible poverty and suffering are experienced within the 50-block area of Skid Row, there is also incredible hope, resilience, and strength within these 50-blocks. As a region, city, and community our goal needs to be to end the poverty and suffering disproportionately experienced by the residents of Skid Row. Our goal should not be to simply spread that poverty and suffering across the region. The challenge for policy makers, urban planners, and the general public is to lift the residents of Skid Row out of poverty, not simply replace the residents with individuals with higher incomes.

Myth: Law enforcement is the best way to get people off the streets.

Fact

Homelessness is not a crime, and it is a violation of civil and human rights to arrest an individual for being poor. Additionally, arresting individuals experiencing homelessness simply prolongs homelessness, costs taxpayers thousands of dollars, and makes it more difficult for that homeless individual to rebuild their life. Countless studies from across the country have shown that it is more cost-effective and humane to provide permanent supportive housing than to arrest homeless individuals. The most well known of these studies found that it cost taxpayers 2% less, or $995 per year less, to provide permanent housing and services to a homeless individual versus leaving that individual on the street to cycle through the criminal justice system, shelters, and hospital emergency rooms.

Myth: Permanent supportive housing brings property values down.

Fact

Affordable housing and permanent supportive housing often brings property values up. Brand new, beautiful buildings are often the catalyst for lower income neighborhoods to “turn around.” Many affordable housing and permanent supportive housing developers often find that after building one or two new buildings in a neighborhood they can no longer afford to build in that same neighborhood due to raising property values!

Myth: Permanent supportive housing is too expensive to be a real solution to homelessness.

Fact

As mentioned above, numerous studies from across the country have found that permanent supportive housing is cheaper than simply leaving individuals to live on the streets. While building a new building and providing ongoing services is not cheap, if local, state, and federal governments redirected the taxpayer dollars that fund emergency room visits, shelter stays, and the jailing of homeless individuals it would be easy to fund thousands of permanent supportive housing apartments. Additionally, the federal low income tax credit and tax exempt bond programs leverage millions in private investment for these developments. Permanent supportive housing is not only a proven solution to ending homelessness, it is a cost effective solution.